Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, A Review

This is a documentary about his 1977 arrest for statutory rape. It’s new and highly rated, having debuted at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. It shows how his arrest was based as much on who and what he was as any possible crime, one he denies. His background is interesting in itself, from his mother murdered by Nazis in Poland, his father’s death-camp internment, and his own abandonment to fend for himself to his rapid rise to celebrity in 1960s London based on his early Polish films, his marriage to Sharon Tate, her murder by the Manson Family, and his dalliance with 13 year old Samantha Geimer that led to his status as an outlaw on the lam.

His supporters, including defense attorney Doug Dalton, maintain it was a set of trumped up charges rather similar to the persecution of Michael Jackson, based on the prosecutors’ view that Roman Polanksi was a decadent Eurotrash sicko steeped in perversion. A Mormon prosecutor was assigned the case and it went to a judge who asked for the case because he liked celebrity cases. Judge Rittenband loved the media and ran his courtroom like a tyrannical director. He had Hollywood pals and attended country club parties. He even kept a scrapbook and took telegrams to reserve seats in at the trial.

Polanksi was short, foreign, and spoke with a heavy accent. He was considered perverse due to his weird movies and veiled background. A malign dwarf, he was called. He riled their anti-intellectual, anti-cultural, and anti-European ire while inflaming other, more visceral bigotries, such as success envy.

His trial was scheduled, perversely, for the eighth anniversary of Polanksi’s wife Sharon Tate’s murder. Samantha Geimer, the 13 year old girl who took ‘ludes and allowed herself to be seduced in a hot tub, having been left there with Polanski by her own mother, was called a corrupt little high-school vixen and slutty model wannabe.

The Mormon prosecutor, to find out about Polanski, watched his films at a handy restrospective at a nearby theater. He watched everything from KNIFE IN WATER through ROSEMARY’S BABY and decided all the films had a theme of the corrupt leading the innocent into corruption over water. So he prosecuted on those grounds; that Polanski had lured a 13-year old all-American girl to her moral doom, rape, in a jacuzzi.

No one at the time noticed how surreal this was. Had Roman Raymond Polanski been around in 1947 he might have had the Black Dahlia murder pinned on him.

As it was, Sharon Tate’s death at the hands of the Manson Family was perhaps worse. Polanski was shattered, devastated, and flew from London, where he’d been in talks to direct DAY OF THE DOLPHIN. The papers at once blamed him for the murders, actually claiming he had flown stateside, killed them, then had flown back to London.

Again, no one at the time noticed how surreal this was.

Imagine living through all he had -- the loss of parents in the Holocaust, surviving alone as a preteen in a war-shattered Eastern Europe, the murder of your wife and child and friends by the Manson Family -- without becoming a madman, a drug addict, or a suicide. He dived into society to keep from being alone, one psychologist said, observing how Polanski kept up his social calendar no matter what happened to him. It was his way of staying stable; avoiding too much solitude.

Of course, this led him to earn a reputation as a party animal, one who liked very young girls. He had famously discovered Natassia Kinski when she was 15, affair and all. A psychologist commented that, especially after the loss of his wife, Sharon Tate, and the stability she had offered him, Polanski, a man with no life map, no blueprint for how to live, fell back upon being wary to the point of fear of relationships with adult women.

What ever the case, Samantha Geimer, at 13, was introduced into the social swirl surrounding Roman Polanski, famous director, by her mother, or so the press claimed, and left alone with him as a seduction ploy that was part of a casting couch blackmail scheme. Geimer later testified that she had been nervous after the first photo shoot Polanski conducted for the French edition of VOGUE, when he’d asked her to change in front of him. She said of the incident in the jacuzzi, which took place on 10 March 1977 in Jack Nicholson’s house in Los Angeles, that he had plied her during the shoot with both champagne and quaaludes to relax her and that, once he had her in the water and was pressuring her for sex, she said no several times but finally “gave up on that.” She sounds like a little girl who was pressured for something she was not ready for, caught in a situation she did not know how to escape. Whether it was part of her mother’s plan or not, statutory rape is exactly what it sounds like.

One thinks of Mary Miles Minter, her mother, and the murder of William Desmond Taylor. How dangerous, the fires Polanski seemed to play with and dance among. Is it any wonder that, after ROSEMARY’S BABY, he took on, in the press at least, a Satanic aura?

So, was this a case of tit for tat gone awry? Her mother was an aspiring actress who described herself as “an extra” to Polanski upon first meeting him. Samantha Geimer, grown now, denies it was part of any scheme and considers it just something that happened and that she got over. She is now married with three children and has put the incident behind her. She says it was not what anyone claimed.

Polanski pled guilty to consensual sex with a minor on his lawyer’s advice, based on the fact that no one had been sent to prison on that plea in years. However, the law allowed for a sentence of 6 months to 50 years in a state prison.

The judge ignored a probation psychiatric report saying Polanski was not a degenerate and should not go to prison, and sent him for a 90-day observation period at Chino for a diagnostic study, in order to punish him without allowing him legal room for appeal. The judge then told the attorneys to fake their pleas in court so the press would think it was not worked out in advance. The deal being that, if Polanski got a good report after 90 days, which all expected, then it would end the punishment and he could walk away a free man.

So the lawyers stood in court, faked their arguments, then listened to Judge Rittenband read a lenghty conclusion obviously written ahead of time, all so the media would not lash back at him.

Oh, and Polanski was then granted a 90-day stay so he could finish the movie he was directing.

Polanksi fled the country. Or did he? He was caught at the airport and laughed off suggestions that he would not be back, saying it was a business trip to Europe to talk to his financiers.

A random photographer caught a shot of Polanski in a Oktoberfest tent in Munich sitting between two pretty girls, smoking a cigar, and Judge Rittenband took this as an insult. He issued a growly order for Polanski to return at once to California. All this because no one would hire Polanski except the schlock producer Dino De Laurentis, who had insisted on business drinks in Munich. Absurdity once again stalked Polanski.

Random observation: Polanski sure rode in crap cars more than a few times, back in the 1970s.

He returned stateside and went to the 90-day stint at Chino, where he was afraid the other inmates would get to him and kill him, which they threatened to do to all child molesters. He was kept in protective custody but the danger was real, as others had been killed there in similar circumstances.

Chino authorities on the probation board let him out after 42 days had been served, saying there was no reason to keep him further. Naturally the prosecutor called this a free pass, the press howled for Polanski’s blood, and Judge Rittenband felt personally pressured.

By now the judge could not stand the heat, and announced he was going to go back on his promise to release Polanski after time served at Chino. This was the deal he himself had forced on the attorneys. He literally said a prison sentence must be maintained for the press.

He told the defense attorney that he would sentence Polanski in open court, then, after the press had left, would meet with the attorney in chambers to release Polanski into defense attorney Dalton’s custody. the judge then demanded Polanski sign papers waiving deportation rights.

The lawyer Dalton countered that he wanted a hearing in public so the deal would be on the record and the judge threatened to withdraw the offer.

Neither prosecutor nor defense attorney wanted any part of Judge Rittenband’s plans and the prosecutor told Dalton he would tell anyone at any time what the judge had tried to pull. No one could trust Judge Rittenband now.

Polanski heard about all this, said, “Gentlemen, I’ll be seeing you,” and left the offices. He drove to De Laurentis’s house, where, De Laurentis claims with a twinkle in his eye, “I handed him an envelope with, as I recall, some scripts and notes in it.” Polanski then flew to Paris, France.

He fled an out-of-control judge laying a railroad for him. And France’s extradition laws barred the US from forcing Polanski to return.

When Polanski did not show in court, Judge Rittenband held a press conference on the pending case, which was unprecedented. The defense and prosecution then held a conference announcing all the judge’s machinations, which forced Rittenband out.

Samantha Geimer summed it up well. She said, “the judge was enjoying his publicity and did not care what happened to me or to Mr. Polanski.”

Roman Polanski is 74 and remains wanted stateside.

Recently the two opposing attorneys in the case presented arguments to a new judge, who agreed that, if Polanski came back, he would serve no more time and could clear himself of all charges. He stipulated the hearing would have to be held in public, with TV cameras, no doubt mindful of Rittenband’s secrecy and wishing to avoid all appearances of such deception.

When he learned the hearing that would fulfill his legal obligations to the state of California would be televised, Polanski declined to return, so the case remains unresolved.

Polanski lives in Paris. He speaks six languages, lives a cosmopolitan life of parties and culture, and is one of the most respected directors in movies. France has embraced him, and he has embraced France, his birthplace and his likely final resting place.

ROMAN POLANSKI: WANTED (in USA) and DESIRED (in France) is a worthwhile portrait of an interesting man.

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squeakyshooz said...

God American's are sooo uptight. Look she wasn't an angel she had had 2 other sexual partners and even dipped in alcohol and Quaaludes before her tender 13 years (read her court account). I know it doesn't excuse anything for you tight American's but her mother did know about Roman's history and she sure didn't avail herself to be there when precious was being photographed. You know that says about if it looks and acts like a duck? Well Mrs. Geimer sure is some Quacker. Oh yeah and don't forget they settled up in 97 so PAID IN FULL.

Gene Stewart said...

You think I'm a Yank? Uptight? A carbon copy of all North American Consumer Units?

You think it's perfectly okay for an ambitious mother to throw her 13 year old daughter at a notorious roué in his 30s?

You think money makes it okay?

My review was of the film, nothing else.